Expectations for “Mistaken Empathy”
Kim Mijung (Curator, Art Space Pool)
Mistaken Empathy: Delightful Encounter, Art Space Pool’s last exhibition of 2016, is associated with POOLAP (Pool Artist Incubating Program), a program for young artists of Art Space Pool. POOLAP aims to build an organic platform where education, critique, and exchange of ideas operate and continue. The participating artists of POOLAP—Kang Kiseok, Moojin Brothers, Park Jihye, Shin Jungkyun—has had meetings and conversations with artists and critics who have engaged with Art Space Pool. In a nutshell, ‹Mistaken Empathy: Delightful Encounter› is the final exhibition of a program for the young artist.
For those reasons, some might make haste guess even before they come to see the exhibition in person; they could assume that the exhibition would provide limited scope by repeating hackneyed perspectives on so-called young artists. In part, such guess makes sense; it is true that participating artists are in their early 30s on average, and it is evident that they are living in the chaotic world that makes no sense, as their works manifest.
I, however, hoped that the four artists are not simply regarded as “young artists living in a precarious time.” Prematurely made definitions and rash judgments could be where “Mistaken Empathy” arises from, as the title of the exhibition suggests. However, I would rather not be frustrated by such haste misjudgments, since it could lead to some constructive attempts to reexamine the subject, and it could eventually lead to some unexpected answers. I think I saw a hint of the hope in the course of running the POOLAP program. ‹Mistaken Empathy: Delightful Encounter› is an exhibition, but at the same time it is the record of the progress of POOLAP during past six months.
Loophole of “understanding”
In order to proceed the program and to make an exhibition, curator, and four artists had to get to know each other as soon as possible. It was about finding the common ground, that is, to reach a mutual understanding. While understanding each other was the biggest task, however, sometimes the idea of empathy or understanding feels futile all of a sudden. This kind of frustration might have been stemmed from the attempts to avoid cliches of exhibition associated with programs for young artists, and aspirations to try to find new approaches. However, I came to suspect if such aspirations had already gone wrong when trying to subsume all the artists under a misfitting theme.
In fact, there is no exaggerated reflection of reality nor rash declaration or definition in the works of the four artists, nor a clue of positive outlook or nirvana for the future. However, there exist introspection and visual experimentation for their respective concerns and slow repetition of such process. The artists visualize scenes they confronted with or observed: Kang becomes/faces the Other; Shin rearranges symbolized images and events in a mysterious way; Park contemplates on the ontology of artwork that is destined to end up as a mere "object;" and Moojin Brothers builds a stage that shows adversaries in life.
However, it would be misleading to interpret such attempts as desperation caused by failure, anxiety or fear. Instead, the works serve as a stage where humorous scenarios can be presented. Their concerns started from their personal experiences, however, they address current concerns of everyone who lives through this time of the history. It could be a valuable asset for artists to fully face the problem of oneself and of the society in a severe reality fraught with preposterous stories, missed judgment, and inconsiderate remarks. This is why Mistaken Empathy: Delightful Encounter posits the artists’ attitude as prudent observers as the common denominator and tries to keep away from providing any further nonsensical definitions that could claim to offer a complete understanding of them.
In order to understand the “Other,” Kang Kiseok has conducted experiments to mimic, or become the “Other.” Kang’s work shows repetitive self-torture. He has performed as if he cannot see, or hobbles, or as if he was an old lady with dementia. However, given that becoming someone else than yourself is never easy, such experiments almost always seem to fail. In the exhibition, however, instead of becoming others, Kang made a video of the process of dissecting dead animals and reconnects the parts to make them as stuffed specimens. Making both artist and viewers suffered, this action is, in fact, a violence towards both the artists’ ego and the Other. Kang sings a popular song “Cutie Honey” to a baby goat which was once dead but is resurrected—despite only the physical form—and walk it; there arise questions of sacrifice and ethics.
Moojin Brothers have made video works on the stories of people who live in deprived circumstances. It takes a form of “story” that Moojin Brothers has created, rather than a documentary. ‹Soaring in Transition›, a work presented at the exhibition, takes a tale of “snake child” as a metaphor of digging up lands for the cause of development. The story is passed down in artist’s family, but it also reflects the Korean traditional symbol of a snake as an animal that is in charge of housing sites and misfortune of household. Through the analogy of snake child, Moojin Brothers talk about the phenomenon of a house as a ground for life turning into the subject of investment and development. Some abandoned objects taken from the redevelopment site are installed alongside the video; in it, the camera slowly pans the old and long objects in the shape of a snake. By showing empty shells that symbolizing vestige and fragmented life along with the narration telling the story about snake child, Moojin Brothers asks for reconsideration of the neoliberal viewpoint on land.
Park Jihye has been grappling with the afterlife of artworks after exhibition finishes: they usually end up in the garbage or in the storage. For Mistaken Empathy: Delightful Encounter, Park presents cubes made from rectangular timber and arrange them according to the sequence of numbers. Made from cheap wood, the cubes will bend and change form over time. Park also took a part of one of her past works and presents in the exhibition; the work is transformed into the moving theaters that viewers can hold and walk around while seeing works of three other artists except for Park. Also, because of its fitting shape, the works are easy to be carried around, and their shape facilitates their “disposal” after exhibition closes.
Shin Jungkyun has been experimenting interstices of meaning that arise when signs related to serious topics—such as the military, inter-Korean relations, and war—are twisted and humorously transformed. However, Shin has been sometimes misunderstood, or even been investigated by police because of the images uses. Inspired by this experience, Shin made the work for the exhibition that juxtaposes his own experience with the similar experience of his father who was a cabin crew. However, as the information remains vague to the viewers, arranged images are turning into a part of some ideological narratives that viewers perception and preconception has created.
The materials containing portfolios, interviews, and critiques about participating artists are provided on-site to help viewers to understand where the each of four artists came from, and where they stand on. The materials could help to defer any rash judgment on the artists as well. It is okay if viewers misunderstand, or do not get the objectives of the exhibition. The attempts made by the exhibition will be valid as long as they constantly elicit questions. It is like when you see a pop-up message saying “an error happened while liking the post” when trying to like a post on the internet. When you see the message, you would click the like button—that denotes empathy—again. Such error would create other flows for sure, that can lead to making a space for subverting preexisting definitions.